Cholesterol: The good, the bad and the healthy

This month is not officially Cholesterol Awareness month, however, it is a very important subject and one worth talking about as often as possible. This is because high cholesterol is one of those health issues that remain silent until it is too late.

Unlike with other health issues we deal with, where the symptoms start to show early on and give us ample warning, our bodies are unable to give us the same warning signs when it comes to high cholesterol. This is partly due to the fact that cholesterol is naturally found in our bodies. So unless we actively get tested, we will typically not know we have high cholesterol until the damage has already been done.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is actually very good for you. It is a vital component of our body’s functions and is naturally created by our livers. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that aids in the formation of cell membranes, various hormones, bile, vitamin D, and it even assists in the communication between nerve cells. Without this organic compound, we would simply not survive.

So why does cholesterol have such a bad reputation?

Well, the human body is quite remarkable in the fact most of its functions rely on very delicate balances. Your body creates the cholesterol it needs, uses that cholesterol, and then recycles the excess. So when we ingest too much extra cholesterol through certain foods, we offset that balance. Our bodies are then unable to recycle and remove the excess molecules fast enough. And, since they have nowhere else to go, they start to cling to the sides of our blood vessels. This creates clumps of hard, fatty deposits called plaque.

This plaque either grows too large and starts restricting the flow of blood, or it breaks off and gets stuck in the smaller capillaries found through our blood system. This is what causes health issues such as strokes, heart attacks, angina, high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease, and chronic kidney disease. This is when we start to see the symptoms of high cholesterol.

This is an overly simplified description of how cholesterol works in our bodies. In reality, it is a lot more complicated. Luckily though, we have individuals from our communities who dedicate their lives to studying how our bodies work. These doctors and nurses have a much higher understanding of how to prevent and correct these health issues. If you are suffering from high cholesterol, it is best to talk to your doctor to see what you can take to help reduce your cholesterol count.

What can you do to maintain your cholesterol and stay healthy?

Knowledge is key. The first thing that you can do is to get an official blood test done to determine what your cholesterol count looks like. The CDC recommends that healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. Individuals who lead unhealthy lifestyles, suffer from heart disease, diabetes, or have a family history of high cholesterol, should get checked more often. It is quite a quick and easy process and can be done at your local clinic or certain pharmacies.

During this process, a small vial of your blood is taken and tested for three main types of cholesterol; Triglyceride, LDL (bad cholesterol), and HDL (good cholesterol). Below are the recommended numbers to have.

If you have a high cholesterol count, do not panic. Your nurse or doctor will be able to advise you on the best path going forward for you. They will let you know which foods to eat and which to avoid, as well as prompt some daily exercises that will help reduce your cholesterol. And if needed, your doctor may also prescribe some medications. They are usually from the group of medications called statins, and they help reduce the amount of cholesterol produced by our livers, effectively reducing the overall cholesterol found in our bodies.

If you would like to have a cholesterol test done or require more information on how cholesterol works, please give us a call on 087 654 3177 to book an appointment with one of our RezCare nurses at our Support Lounge at 85 Main Road, Fish Hoek.

We are here to help.

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